Feeling my Net age

The Associated Press has announced that on June 1 its AP Stylebook will cease capitalizing Internet and Web.

The news on Facebook looked like this, with a good reminder that the internet and the web are not the same thing, capitalized or not.


Beyond that reminder, the style news has me feeling like a cyber curmudgeon, set in my ways after almost 40 years of using computer communication services. As a shortened form of the proper noun World Wide Web, “the Web” uppercase made sense to me when referring to the collection of computer services set in motion by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990s. 

AP and the public had gotten inconsistent about “Web,” website,  webmaster and other compound uses. Part of the problem is the sheer size of that capital W in most typefaces. A technical article risked poking the reader in the eye with all those tall barbs. So I understand the need to sacrifice the big W for typographical aesthetics and consistency.

I still like the somewhat geeky distinction between “an” internet — two or more connected networks — and “the” uppercase Internet, the ever-expanding  decentralized global network…  I think of it as a physical entity — all those wires, cables, wireless links, switches, routers and computers, as well as the rules (protocols) that make them work together.

The i/I distinction is admittedly confusing. The big Internet could use a name of its own. I would suggest FRED, and let someone else reverse engineer the acronym, but that friendly name already has other uses, some involving “the F-word.” Perhaps “the Net” could the replacement.

Or… another comparison just came to mind. Does “the ocean” suggest to you all of the oceans of the world? The individual oceans get their proper names, uppercase, while the network of all of them flowing into each other is referred to in lower case as the ocean or the oceans. But, no, let’s not start saying “the internets.” That sounds like a line from a stand-up comedian.

Meanwhile, I disagree with AP’s reference to the World Wide Web” and “email” as “subsets” of the network. They are software-powered services run on the network — programs and data in motion over all those cables and wireless links, following another layer of protocols.  “Subsets” of the Internet sounds more like some part of the physical wiring, rather than the electronic reality of bits and bytes flitting about wirelessly to take shape as pixels on our screens.

(In full curmudgeon mode, I admit I also preferred the word email with a hyphen, but that battle was lost several AP Stylebook editions ago. I thought the hyphen made the pronunciation consistent with other one-letter usages. Not that I’ve ever heard anyone mispronounce it “em-ail.”)

Note: After I posted a short note about this on Facebook, a friend (Dave Winer of http://scripting.com) asked me to put it on my blog so that he could point people to it more easily. This rather long draft was composed on a cell phone late at night, risking both eyestrain and auto-correct errors.
Alas, I’m afraid verbosity has struck, and I have no editing help — other than your comments on this blog post.

Posted in communication, Computers, Internet, Journalism, Technology

Saving the newspaper, 1932

  A former student of mine, now editor-in-chief of a small-town weekly newspaper, confessed on Facebook that she got lost in some bedtime reading last night and was up past 1:30. Coincidence: I was not only guilty of the same thing at the same time, but with every chapter of the book I was reading, I had thought about sending her a copy.

Actually, in this case “a copy” is just a web link or two. The book — about an even younger woman editor — is apparently out of copyright and available for free streaming or downloading in both Project Gutenberg e-book and LibriVox audio book formats.

In “Helen in the Editor’s Chair,”  a Nancy Drew style teen novel, two high school students have to run the town weekly when their dad the editor is taken ill and sent to Arizona because of “lung trouble.” It’s truly amazing what they accomplish without TV or the Internet! (I don’t think radio even gets mentioned.) The roles of both the country newspaper and the country doctor — the newspaper family’s next-door neighbor — will definitely have you wishing for simpler times.

From selling ads and setting type to covering stories big and small, and getting ideas for new features from helpful readers, the kids have a “we can do it!” energy that’s inspiring.  I couldn’t help imagining the two teenagers being played by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, and kept expecting them to burst into song on deadline. The setting is Midwestern, and, yes, there is a tornado — but Helen keeps her feet on the ground. Besides, the small town with its train station, farms and lake is close enough to Oz for me. 

I was up late with the audiobook, but Project Gutenberg has text versions, if you find audiobook pacing is too slow. (The reader is o.k., but so measured that I wonder if his target audience is ESL students.)



Posted in community, fiction, Journalism, jpop, literature, Newspapers, popular culture

Blogging hiatus… 

In a continuing attempt to decide what “being retired” means, I’ve made my swan-song post to the AEJMC Newspaper & Online News division website, the latest manifestation of an older site I started managing in 2003. (AEJMC is the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication, a membership group for teachers of journalism and related subjects.)

It took about four tries to get my successor as primary editor of the site logged in. Apparently the email system at the university where he teaches was blocking the login invitations.  As “editor emeritus” I’m hoping a new editor or two can develop a close working relationship with the officers of the group, attend more of its events (which I hadn’t been able to do for years), and get the division to live up to the “and online news” phrase its membership added to the former “Newspaper Division” name some years ago. 

Meanwhile, some officers apparently decided to abbreviate the division name “NOND,” which not only sounds negative, but reminds me of the old newspaper comic strip “Dondi,” about a sad-eyed war orphan. I preferred “N&ON” — to be whimsically pronounced a more electric “neon.” (It also was a hat-tip to the NandO Times, the old name of the Raleigh News & Observer’s pioneer online news site, where I became an online-news editor almost 21 years ago. Oh well.)

Meanwhile, I see a little post-convention activity at the division’s Facebook page, our third attempt at getting members interested in communicating through Facebook… But if current officers are Facebook users and shy about WordPress, maybe Facebook will grow to be part of the division’s new-media direction. I hope my successor as editor can repost things to the “open Web” for any division members who still insist the “walled garden” of Facebook is the enemy, or something. 

Posted in Uncategorized

When Hearst sang “Cuba, cheer up!”

As the U.S.A. reopens a Havana embassy, and Puerto Rico struggles with financial problems, perhaps it’s time to look back at a century of history — and the news media’s sometimes multimedia role in setting agendas that people might, in this case literally, march to.

I found a copy of this song in an antique shop’s paper ephemera bin long ago and for years toyed with the idea of searching the archives of William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal to see just how extensive the newspaper’s “musical supplement”-publishing endeavor was, and whether it was confined to cheerleading America into war with Spain. I assume this sheet music was bundled in with the other Sunday color supplements, although I suppose it might have been sold separately.
Now, having decided I’m better suited to retirement than to university-funded academic research, I’ll just toss the idea out here for others to consider. The New York Journal‘s “morgue” files of clippings and photos are — go figure — at the University of Texas, as I discovered just in time for a freeze on my then-university’s travel funds. Oh well.

The University of North Carolina, fortunately, has already scanned its copy of the song, so I’m including its images here. The scanners appear to have neglected the back page with the chorus, so I will look for my old copy and see if I can add it here later. Otherwise, I leave it to your imagination. The first line is probably an echo of the title, “There’s room for one more star…”
Note the publication date, April 17, 1898, two months after the explosion of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor. President McKinley asked Congress for war against Spain April 11 and set up a blockade; Congress declared Cuba independent April 19 (despite the annexation theme of the song), and finally declared war April 25. (Timeline at http://www.spanamwar.com/timeline.htm)

The lyrics (note, as they say, the bottom line):

Look up, Cuba, why are you weeping? Why are you grieving day after day?

Justice must seem so silently sleeping and turn a deaf ear unto you when you pray.

Cuba, cheer up! And look forward with pleasure, soon will your sorrows vanish afar,

For in Old Glory’s starry gemmed azure, There’s room for one more star.

Long have you tried vainly to sunder cold cruel links of slavery’s chain

Binding you tightly, a poor captive, under the merciless rule of your harsh master of Spain.

Heroes who loved you, who fought bled and perished, striving to free you day after day.

Soon will their dreams, through weary years cherished, come true and your chains fall away.

Nobly you fight, ever resisting, taskmaster Spain who spares not to slay.

Led by a hero ever persisting and striving for freedom ’til he passed away.

Our motto is fair play and tho’ Spain may raid you, You’ll share the freedom we now enjoy.

And, with the help of the Journal, we’ll aid you, dear Cuba, Spain’s rule to destroy.

Posted in History, media studies, Music, Newspapers, popular culture

Grayson County Fiddlers’ Convention 2015


Two days of intermittent thunderstorms, rain and high winds didn’t chase away all the competitors — or spectators — at the 2015 Grayson County Fiddlers’ Convention in Elk Creek… although the Friday night storm winds did play havoc with the canopies and awnings that campers use to create sunshaded jam-session spaces.

A bunch of the tangled canopy frameworks were thrown together afterward, looking a lot like a multi-legged lunar lander or Mars rover, or some high-tech jackstraws.

Those who held on into Saturday afternoon — and looked away from the stage — did get treated to a broad double rainbow, only a small portion of which fits this cellphone image.


Posted in 2015, community, Music

Ten days to summer

Feels like summer here with 90 degree days, but it isn’t officially until the 21st. I’m already in “not getting everything done I intended to today” mode, but I did remember to look out the window at the right time.


Posted in photography, summer, weather

Back to school again

After a semester or two off, I’ve enrolled in another Coursera “MOOC” (Massively Open Online Class)…

No new Wesleyan University listings for more film history classes to pick-up where I left off with the last two, alas…

But I’ve had this nagging interest in the Python programming language for years too, so I’ve decided to give Coursera’s “Programming for Everybody (Python)” online class a try.

It’s based on Professor Charles Severance’s University of Michigan class, which already has a wealth of materials online here:


The Coursera version is free, using that system’s online video lectures, downloadable files, and discussion forums… as well as a free text book (available in a stunning array of ebook formats, including a 244-page PDF file), some YouTube videos, slideshows on Google Drive, and a Facebook page.

Actually, I signed up months ago and forgot to note on my calendar that it started today, then jumped in and spent hours at the computer exploring all that material… so I’m writing this in part to explain to some friends why I stood them up for the Monday night bluegrass jam session. Sigh. Maybe with Python I can write myself a better reminder-system. Ha!

Wish me luck! This is about my fifth “introduction to programming” over the years, starting with a lunch-hour class in the BASIC language on Wesleyan University’s DEC-10 mainframe in 1980, then Russ Walter’s introduction to microcomputer BASIC in 1983, a Python course a few years later, and even a taste of LISP programming for cognitive science classes. And on my own I’ve picked up just enough javascript to convince myself not to use it until I know what I’m doing.

But Python was the basis for the Django Web programming framework that I’ve watched being used to build newspaper websites, shape interactive Web apps that contributed to public access to information, and build a fascinating (and profitable) career or two… not that I plan to do any of those things myself.

I wonder if “Python voyeur” could be a line on my resume?

Posted in Computers, coursera, MOOCs, programming

Band of Brothers

two American soldiers in World War II

For Memorial Day weekend… some sketchy family history — especially for the cousins I’m connected to on Facebook, including grandchildren of the soldier on the right.

These two very handsome guys in uniform are my dad, Bob, on the left, and his brother, Lester. I think it was taken in 1943 or ’44. My dad had been in training in Kansas through the last half of 1942. At the time of his discharge in 1945, he was part of the 15th Army Air Force, which had been based mostly in Italy, according to online records. For some reason, I always thought he was stationed in England, since he talked about visiting Scotland, where his mother was born, and never talked about being in Italy. But we never did talk about the war much. Maybe that’s what this blog post is really about — talking to your parents, asking questions about their lives — or being prepared to enjoy little mysteries when you go through their boxes of memories years later.

unidentified building with clock and what may be agricultural apparatus in front Alas, I also never thought to ask my father or uncle how they came to get together overseas, or exactly where these pictures were taken. Or maybe I did and just forgot the answers. I suspect the snapshot was sent home with others, including the artistic-looking faded sepia one of a building with a clock-window and weathervane. It is just identified as “a church” in a note on the back, and as the scene of my dad’s picture with “Rocky” — not an inconceivable nickname for uncle Lester, although not one I remember hearing. I wonder if his grandchildren and great-grandchildren ever hear of him being called that.

I don’t know what Lester’s military unit or rank was. Dad’s stripes had to do with working in an Army Air Force photo unit. I imagine the church photo is a snapshot he took. (The note on the back also says “I like this. And you?”)

Dad died of lung cancer 30 years ago last month and Lester passed away eight or nine years later. My father never talked much about his military service, but he still loved to take pictures — although he had no luck finding a photography job in his hometown after the war. Instead, he went back to the nightclub, hotel and restaurant work he had been doing in civilian life.

(His bar-tending experience is probably what “qualified” him for the photo lab training — mixing liquids, handling inventory, record-keeping and cash transactions, getting along with people under pressure. Making them laugh may not have been part of the military job-description, but I bet it helped. It kept him going in peacetime, too… including his college years, which started at age 43 — pretty unusual back then!)

Among other pix he left behind is one showing him in a flight jacket standing on the wing of an airplane, with a huge piece of camera equipment on his shoulder, maybe a camera used to take aerial mapping photos. And then there’s the humorous photo-shoot of him demonstrating <a href="http://www.stepno.com/oldblog/2003/11/11.html&quot; title="2003 blog post about dad's photo feature about incorrect saluting” target=”_blank”>how not to salute, which was published in the Kansas airbase magazine, Salvo, and which I’ve written about before.

Bob and Lester’s older brother, Norman, stayed home to take care of their mother — and became the first in the family to graduate from college and law school. I think their youngest brother, “K” (Clarence), was in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. Luckily, they all came home safely to Western Massachusetts, married and raised families. By the way, in case the youngest brother’s son or grandchildren see this, I understand his nickname was inspired by the tag-along kid-brother in the “Moon Mullins” newspaper comic strip, who was named “K.O.”

(Along with the Salvo reference, “Moon Mullins” helps me meet my old-newspaper-guy goal of having occasional references to newspapers and magazines in this blog, so that I don’t have to change its name.)

Posted in Uncategorized

Springtime Renewal


Perfect timing:

I just noticed that I had not reinstalled the WordPress app on my phone after a system crash last month, that I hadn’t added a post to this blog in two months, and that the sun was going down.

If you are seeing this, everything is working again, including the little share button that let me cross post this to Facebook and Twitter. Happy springtime!

Note: This Android WordPress app really does work quite nicely, even with the speech to text feature of the phone, which only required about 5 edits to fix all the typos… Mostly things like capitalizing the word Sun and misspelled in one of the two words in the headline, which I should have caught immediately.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Klondike weather? Timely 100-year-old poetry


With the thermometer hitting record single digits here in Southwest Virginia, the weatherman threatening negative double-digits overnight, and a Facebook conversation getting me thinking of Robert W. Service, I went looking for my old LP  of Debby McClatchy singing a couple of his poems set to banjo tunes. (It’s “Lady Luck,” out of print, but she will sell you a copy at her website.)

Haven’t found a YouTube clip of her performing the poem, but stumbled on these instead. Light a fire and enjoy…

Johnny Cash – Cremation of Sam McGee:

And if that’s not enough irony for you, here’s a version by Hank (ahem) Snow..

And a dramatized reading, with plenty of Klondike atmosphere:

Want to read along? Here’s the text:


I also found a Project Gutenberg copy of the first tattered leather-bound 1909 collection of Robert Service poems I ever owned,
Ballads of a Cheechako.”.

It does not have Sam McGee, but it does have the “Ballad of Blasphemous Bill,” almost a sequel, which I recommend highly.

   I took a contract to bury the body of blasphemous Bill MacKie,
     Whenever, wherever or whatsoever the manner of death he die—
     Whether he die in the light o’ day or under the peak-faced moon;
     In cabin or dance-hall, camp or dive, mucklucks or patent shoon;
     On velvet tundra or virgin peak, by glacier, drift or draw;
     In muskeg hollow or canyon gloom, by avalanche, fang or claw;
     By battle, murder or sudden wealth, by pestilence, hooch or lead—
     I swore on the Book I would follow and look till I found my tombless dead.

The rest of Blasphemous Bill (text)

And … Hank Snow reciting The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill

Posted in Music, poetry, storytelling, weather, winter, youtube
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